SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! The American pioneer spirit still rides through the lost western lands in writer-director Emily Kaye Allen’s spectacular documentary Cisco Kid. Eileen Muza, a gay woman from Chicago, is the sole resident of Cisco, Utah, the ghost town Susan Sarandon visits in Thelma & Louise. Muza moved there because of the opportunity to own a house, even if it needs work. A lot of work. Their home and the town are dilapidated and disappearing into the desert.
Working out of an Airstream trailer, Muza clears rubbish and repairs broken walls and roofs during long, tough days, sometimes working at night to avoid the heat. Nights are cold and brutal weather almost blows the trailer door in sometimes. Most times, their only company is a dog at their side and a gun on their hip. Muza says living in a ghost town means having to live with the past. The remains of the memories of other lives constantly surround you. You are not starting anything new. You are continuing something that began long ago. In order to take a hot bath, they have a horizontal oil drum outside with the top cut off and filled with water. Muza has to start a fire under the drum to get the water hot. As they soak in the tub, smoking a cigarette, the vastness of the desert surrounding them invites pondering.
I surely hope Allen took still photos as well as her footage because the breathtaking imagery of Cisco Kid would make a killer coffee table book. The richness of the visuals is high art worthy, with a variety that runs between scenic vistas and gritty desolation. I could get lost in the forest of fantastic lamps found in abandoned houses. I could stare at the lit-up Roller Skating sign in the bedroom for hours. While fixing a roof at night, there is this dark silhouette of a cabin where suddenly a doorway of light appears like magic. It is incredible. It is one of many eye-watering sequences of beauty on parade here.
“…a gay woman from Chicago, is the sole resident of Cisco, Utah…”
There is so much majesty in the optic landscape that will resonate inside your system. The filmmaker’s portraits of Eileen Muza are incredible as well. The impact of Muza with a shaved head, rocking sunglasses with a big jug of sweet tea on their porch is immense. The hypnotizing imagery of the ghost town will haunt you in the most delightful way. Cisco Kid has some of the most breathtaking shots I have ever seen in a documentary. This film is the reason God put eyes in your head. Allen’s craftsmanship in editing her amazing footage is beyond superb.
Muza’s efforts seem completely quixotic when we meet them. They seem way in over their head. However, as the film progresses, these assumptions change as some surprising developments occur. At times I could swear I was seeing a queer Hunter S. Thompson strutting around, cigarette in teeth, brandishing a pistol. Muza’s derangement is much different than Thompson’s, as he was more about self-consumption while they’re trying to rebuild destruction with their bare hands.
Eileen Muza’s insights and revelations whirl together like a herd of dust devils. Allen has built a cinematic cathedral devoted to the call of the west. Muza is the embodiment of the great inspiration drawn from the frontier. This film welled up in me the same emotions I get from John Ford’s westerns and Exene Cervenka albums. If you want to know what cowboys of the future will look like, watch Cisco Kid. You think the dream has ended, but it has just begun. If you have ever feel lost, this will give you a horizon again. Wonders can be made from the wreckage.
Cisco Kid screened at the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival.
"…so much majesty in the optic landscape that will resonate..."